German Multilateralism and Relations among the Visegrad group countries

  • Vladimír Handl


German policy has experienced dynamic development and significant elements of change since the country's unification, mainly in the area of security and integration policy. However, German policy has been still defined to a great extent by its internal "institutional pluralism" (Bulmer, Paterson, Jeffery). The "pragmatization" of German integration policy (Schmalz) does not mean rejection of principal orientation on multilateralism. German policy towards the Visegrad group countries (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) has focused mainly on normalisation of mutual relations and their gradual multilateralisation. German concept thus reaches beyond the traditional buffer-zone concept of Central Europe. At the same time, Germany has become the most important but not the exclusive partner of the ECE countries. It has not become a hegemon either, as it can not effectively pre-define policy outcomes in the region. It has been moving towards the role of a "soft hegemon" developing a strategy of "milieu shaping" (Wolfers). It has, therefore, co-shaped the region by the way of co-operation, compromises, export of institutions, norms and political preferences. This process has taken place not instead of NATO - and EU-enlargement but in advance of it. The aim has been primarily to facilitate the enlargement process. The outcome will further "empower" Germany (Bulmer) but the process can not be viewed as the building of a national hegemony. Moreover, the relations between Germany and the Visegrad group states will loosen after successful NATO and EU-enlargement: in a number of areas, different political preferences will surface. Also, unlike the Visegrad states, Germany has global interests and their centre of gravity still rests in the West, not in East Central Europe. Multilateral institutions set limits to oscillation from "normality" in the quality of relations between Germany and its Eastern neighbours. Multilateralism is crucial also as a tool of how to solve the traditional German dilemma: how to, on the one hand, encounter the apprehensions of German partners (towards the West as well as towards the East) regarding both German power as well as weakness. On the other hand, how to meet their expectations that Germany should play a more active role in international affairs. The multilateral policy has been in principle placed higher than the approach to the "historical" agenda in Germany's relations with her Eastern neighbours.

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Vladimír Handl



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